Listen to Seattle Sports: M's-Royals live on Seattle Sports

Lydia Ko holds off Danielle Kang to win at Boca Rio on LPGA

Jan 30, 2022, 12:43 AM | Updated: 3:44 pm
Lydia Ko of New Zealand smiles as she holds her trophy after winning the Gainbridge LPGA golf tourn...

Lydia Ko of New Zealand smiles as she holds her trophy after winning the Gainbridge LPGA golf tournament, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — A terrific up-and-down for a scrambling par from a short-side bunker on the 72nd hole lifted Lydia Ko to a one-shot victory over Danielle Kang on Sunday at the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio.

Kang, trying to become only the second player since 1966 to open a season with back-to-back LPGA Tour victories, shot a 4-under 68, one shot better than Ko, but fell one short.

Ko finished at 14-under 274, earning her 17th LPGA victory. Yuka Saso (67), the U.S. Women’s Open champion, was third, two shots behind. Charley Hull (68) and Celine Boutier (69) tied for fourth.

Kang had a 20-foot downhill putt for birdie to force a playoff on the final hole, and even got a read from fellow competitor Celine Boutier, but Kang’s slick putt started left and never drifted back. Ko then tapped in for the win.

Ko won for only the third time since 2016. The 24-year-old from New Zealand started winning LPGA events at the age of 15, and early on, made winning appear easy. (“Trust me,” she said Sunday, “it was never easy.”) At times she said she tried to play perfect golf, and make perfect swings, but has come to the realization that perfect golf doesn’t exist on video games.

“Sometimes, like today,” Ko said, “I’m going to hit some not-so-pretty ones.”

The difference-maker Sunday came at the 15th hole. Ko and Kang were tied at 12 under, and Kang hit the better approach into the par 4. That’s when Ko, who put a new putter in the bag this week, stroked a downhill, 25-foot right-to-left curler that tumbled in on its last roll. Kang had 12 feet and missed. Ko led at 13 under. Both players traded birdies at the par-5 16th, then closed with pars.

The past few years Ko, the former world No. 1, has had to reconstruct her confidence and try to simplify her game. She fell out of the top 50 in the rankings. It’s more work these days to win, but still quite rewarding, nonetheless. Her coach, Sean Foley, texted Ko on Sunday morning with this: “Every day, every shot, you have a chance and a choice.” The intention of the message: Go do something incredible.

Ko faced not one, but two tall challenges on the closing hole. Her drive found a left-side fairway bunker, leaving 171 yards in on the 415-yard par 4. She made great contact with a 5-iron, but her ball caught the edge of a greenside bunker. Her bunker shot from 15 yards pitched softly and rolled out to a foot below the hole. What were Ko’s thoughts as the final hole unfolded?

“Please … I don’t want to play this hole again,” she said, smiling. Ko picked up a winner’s check for $300,000. Added her caddie, Derek Kistler, “I’m not sure if she was nervous or not on those bunker shots, but I wasn’t. That final shot to a foot? Standard operating procedure for her. She’s amazing.”

Ko and Kang, her longtime friend — Kang refers to Ko as her “little sister” — traded pars for much of the cool, sunny South Florida afternoon, which left a handful of other players sticking around with a chance. Canada’s Brooke Henderson went out in 5-under 31 and tacked on a birdie at the 10th to get to 10 under par. Japan’s Saso turned in 3-under 33, getting to double-digits under par. Likewise, England’s Hull made three early birdies to get to minus-10 and make her presence known.

But all three would cool. Saso birdied the ninth and didn’t make another until the 17th. Hull played her first six holes of her final nine in 1 over. Henderson, 6 under at one point on the day, struggled with the putter, and came home in 37.

Kang, who won last week’s season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions, started the day two shots back and was trying to become only the second player since 1966 to sweep the first two events of the LPGA season. Ai Miyazato was the last to do it, in 2010, when the season opened in Asia. Before that, it was Marilynn Smith, who won the 1966 St. Petersburg Women’s Open and Louise Suggs Delray Beach Invitational back-to-back.

Nelly Korda, who entered the week at No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings, tied for 20th, which means Jin Young Ko will retake the No. 1 spot this week. Ko is ranked third.

Ko is taking time off next week to get ready for the upcoming Asia and West Coast swings. For all the winning that she has done, she’d never won this early in a season. It’s a long year, and she has work to do on her game, but she likes where she sits. She planned to be back in the gym Monday, and working with Foley on Tuesday.

“It’s definitely good momentum going into the rest of the year.” Ko said. “If somebody asked me, ‘Hey, do you think you’re going to win this week? I’m not sure I would have said yes.'”

Lydia Ko, a winner once more. Call it an unexpected bonus.

___

More AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Michigan State coach Mel Tucker watches from the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college...
Associated Press

Takeaways: After rush to give Tucker megadeal, MSU slips

Michigan State blew up the market for college football coaches last year by giving Mel Tucker a massive 10-year contract as the Spartans charged out to a 9-1 start in his second season. It was a bit puzzling at the time. Tucker’s overall record as a head coach was 16-13 at that point, covering not […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Kennesaw St. wins battle of winless teams, 24-22 vs. Wofford

KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) — Jonathan Murphy rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns, and he also passed for 107 yards as Kennesaw State won the battle of winless teams, topping Wofford 24-22 on Saturday. Kennesaw State (1-2) led 24-9 early in the fourth quarter before Wofford got within two points with 6:08 remaining on Nathan […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Payton’s 3 TD passes lead Mercer over Gardner-Webb 45-14

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. (AP) — Fred Payton threw three touchdown passes and Mercer rolled to a 45-14 victory over Gardner-Webb on Saturday night. Payton was 15-of-23 passing for 187 yards. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to Devron Harper and one to Drake Starks. Harper made eight catches for 109 yards and added 64 […]
18 hours ago
Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Johan Oviedo delivers during the first inning of the team's bas...
Associated Press

Oviedo cruises through 7, Pirates top Cubs 6-0 to end skid

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Johan Oviedo tied his career high with seven strikeouts in seven innings, and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Chicago Cubs 6-0 on Saturday night to snap an eight-game losing streak. Oviedo (4-2) retired the final 16 batters he faced, allowing just three hits on 82 pitches without issuing a walk. The right-hander […]
18 hours ago
California running back Jaydn Ott, left, runs the ball for a 73-yard touchdown against Arizona duri...
Associated Press

Ott rushes for 274 yards to lead Cal past Arizona 49-31

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Jaydn Ott ran for 274 yards and three touchdowns and California opened Pac-12 play with a 49-31 victory over Arizona on Saturday. Ott scored on a 73-yard run on the second play from scrimmage, an improbable 18-yarder in the third quarter after he had appeared to be stopped for a short […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Henderson’s 5 TD passes help Delaware beat Hampton 35-3

NEWARK, Del. (AP) — Nolan Henderson completed 30 of 43 passes for 296 yards and five touchdowns — three to Thyrick Pitts — to help Delaware beat Hampton 35-3 Saturday night. Henderson connected with Pitts on touchdowns of 15 and 8 yards to give Delaware (4-0, 2-0 Colonial Athletic Association) a 14-0 lead at the […]
18 hours ago
Lydia Ko holds off Danielle Kang to win at Boca Rio on LPGA